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Meagher v. Long Island R.R. Co.

Court of Appeals of New York
261 N.E.2d 384 (1970)


Facts

Edward Meagher died upon disembarking from a train as it passed through a station where the train was not scheduled to stop. Meagher’s widow, Marie, (plaintiff), as executrix of her husband’s estate, sued the Long Island Rail Road Co. (LIRR) in a New York state court for negligence. In its defense, LIRR alleged Meagher’s contributory negligence and Section 83 of the Railroad Law, which protected railroads against liability for injuries to passengers riding on train vestibules without authorization. With respect to those defenses, LIRR proposed that the court instruct the jury that if Meagher disembarked while the train was in motion or if Meagher’s death was caused by his riding on the vestibule, then LIRR could not be liable. The court did not charge the jury as requested by LIRR. Instead, it instructed the jurors that contributory negligence applied only if Meagher disembarked while the train was moving faster than two or three miles per hour and that Section 83 did not apply where a person stepped onto a train car vestibule, in preparation to disembark, while the train was entering a station. After charging the jury, the judge told counsel that “exceptions or requests” to the charge would be heard in chambers. LIRR’s attorney stated that he had no exceptions or requests but indicated that he wished to discuss a matter out of the jury’s hearing. The judge submitted the case to the jury to begin deliberating then held a conference in chambers. There, counsel for LIRR asked the judge to charge the jury in accordance with the proposals that LIRR had earlier submitted. The judge stated for the record that the request had been made and that it was considered declined. Later, during deliberations, the jury sought additional guidance. The court reread parts of the charge, including its instructions on contributory negligence and Section 83. LIRR did not object. After a decision was reached in favor of Meagher, LIRR appealed on the ground that the court’s jury instructions were erroneous. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision. LIRR appealed.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Jasen, J.)

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Dissent (Gibson, J.)

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